A Drowned Maiden’s Hair by Laura Amy Schlitz

A Drowned Maiden’s Hair, by Laura Amy Schlitz, was published in 2006 by Candlewick.

On the morning of the best day of her life, Maud Flynn was locked in the outhouse, singing, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” That is the day that Maud—“plain, clever and bad” girl of the Barbary Asylum for Female Orphans—is adopted into a real family, surprising even Maud herself. The elderly Hawthorne sisters, led by the charismatic Hyacinth, think that Maud Flynn is absolutely perfect, and Maud follows them eagerly into a brand-new life, expecting to be pampered and cherished beyond her wildest dreams. Once she settles in with Hyacinth, Judith, and Victoria to live out an orphan’s fantasy, however, Maud learns that “perfection” has more to do with the secret role she can play in the high-stakes and eerie “family business” than with her potential as a beloved family member. Not one to give up easily, Maud persists in playing her role in the hopes of someday being rewarded with genuine affection. But the burden of keeping secrets and perpetuating lies grows heavy even for Maud, and she must ultimately decide just how much she is willing to endure for the sake of being loved.

Rating: 4/5

A Drowned Maiden’s Hair is a heartwarming novel about a girl who just wants a family and the lengths she will go to in order to feel loved. While the plot was obvious, it was well-written and I didn’t mind so much that I knew how the novel was going to end.

While I found Schlitz’s other novel, Splendors and Glooms, strange and unlikeable, this one, while containing some slight supernatural elements, was much more subtle about it and everything was integrated nicely into the plot. In addition, Maud is not the character type that I tend to like, but I liked her—Schlitz shared just enough of her feelings and of her past that I understood her and I appreciated the time spent in the characterization of Maud, as well as the other characters, especially Victoria, Anna, and Mrs. Lambert.

I also appreciated that Schlitz shows how Maud has an accent without actually writing out the dialect. Writing in dialect sometimes doesn’t come across very well, so I’m glad that the improper English was implied rather than directly stated whenever Maud opened her mouth. A strange thing to appreciate, I know, but dialects can very quickly become too over the top and Schlitz avoids that all together.

A Drowned Maiden’s Hair is sweet, at times sad and a little disturbing, and ultimately heartwarming. I enjoyed reading it and I’m glad that the somewhat cheesy subtitle (A Melodrama) does not take away from the novel in the least bit.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade

Hyacinth squeezed her again. “You really are a darling girl,” said Hyacinth Hawthorne. “Isn’t she, Judith?”

Judith didn’t answer. The elder Miss Hawthorne had turned to face the window. Her profile was hawklike, with its sharp eyes and Roman nose. Maud had a feeling that Judith didn’t talk about “darlings” very much. A little daunted, she glanced back at Hyacinth.

Hyacinth was smiling faintly. Maud relaxed. It was Hyacinth who mattered, after all—and Hyacinth thought she was a darling girl.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2gPRSSw

Splendors and Glooms: New Format!

As you can probably see, I’ve mixed up the format a bit! Who really cares about all that information at the top, anyway? I did leave the publication info where it was, though, but I might change that, too, in the future. There’s now a link where you can buy the books I review at the bottom, as well. I’ll be experimenting with this new format for the next couple of posts until I get it where I like it, so expect it to shift around a bit.

Splendors and Glooms is written by Laura Amy Schlitz. It was published in 2012 by Candlewick. It is a Newbery Honor book. Schlitz’s Goodreads profile can be found here.

What I Liked:

This book was…interesting. And strange. I picked it out because it was a Newbery Honor, and those tend to be pretty good. It wasn’t what I was expecting. I liked it, but I didn’t like it. I can see why it’s a Newbery; as far as technique, it has a tight plot, nice writing, good pace, etc. One outcome is very obvious, but other than that, there really aren’t any flaws so far as technique goes.

Clara stole the show, in my opinion. Reading about anyone else, except for maybe Lizzie Rose, was just not as good. She had the most growth and the most depth and was simply much more interesting than Lizzie Rose or Parsefall. She also had the most flaws, which made her less perfect, which made her better than the other characters. Essentially, she’s the balance between Lizzie Rose and Parsefall. In addition, she also did most of the action in terms of dealing with Cassandra and the fire opal. I probably would have disliked this book a lot more if her role were less, or if she had been a different character. As it was, Clara brought this book up to a “meh” status. Like I said, I liked it, but I didn’t like it.

Cassandra was an interesting villain. She didn’t really do much except suffer, and obviously Grisini was supposed to be the Evil, while she was just the Gray Villain Who Has Redemptive Qualities. Schlitz’s attempt at redeeming her was…interesting. I say “attempt” because I didn’t really buy it or like it. But I guess Schlitz didn’t want two completely evil villains, so she did something different with Cassandra. At least she branched out and did different things with her characters.

Cover Art

What I Didn’t Like:

The book was good, but it wasn’t very enjoyable, at least not for me, and enjoyment is a big factor in whether or not I like a book. I can enjoy a book that’s not very well-written, and so I expect to enjoy a well-written book even more. I don’t like it when well-written books don’t have that enjoyment factor.

I can’t even really explain why I didn’t like this book. It just…didn’t grab me. The beginning was okay, the middle dragged, and the end was slightly better. Lizzie Rose was too perfect and Parsefall was too rebellious; it’s obvious that they were meant to be foils and that Clara is the one who bridges the gap between them. Nothing was really all that memorable. Cassandra was also slightly creepy and not nearly as big of a villain as she was made out to be. Grisini wasn’t even all that menacing since he wasn’t present all that often.

Rating: 3/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Violence

Genre: Fantasy, Realistic, Young Adult

By Sendy Kurniawan

Summary/Blurb:

“The master puppeteer Gaspare Grisini is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, is spellbound by Grisini’s act and invites him to entertain at her home. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with his caravan, puppets, and two orphaned assistants.

Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are dazzled by the Wintermute home. Clara seems to have everything they lack: adoring parents, warmth, and plenty to eat. In fact, Clara’s life is shadowed by grief, guilt and secrets. When she vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls on the puppeteer.

As they seek to puzzle out Clara’s whereabouts, Lizzie and Parse uncover Grisini’s criminal past and wake up to his evil intentions. Fleeing London, they find themselves caught in a trap set by Grisini’s ancient rival, a witch with a deadly inheritance to shed before it’s too late.”

~Inside Flap

Passages/Quotes:

Something glistened on the stair landing. Clara caught sight of it as she climbed the last three steps; something that shone against the dull carpet like a miniature sun. She bent down and picked it up.

It was a gold watch. Clara had never seen a watch quite like it. The dial was no larger than her thumbnail; it seemed to represent the full moon. Around it was a night sky made of black enamel, with two figures set against it: a golden wolf and a silver swan. The swan was suspended in midair, its wings outstretched. The wolf’s jaws gaped, its teeth as thin as needles.

Madamina!

Clara’s head jerked up. The puppet master Grisini stood in the doorway of the drawing room. She had seen him leave a quarter of an hour ago.

“You come apropos.” He swept off his hat and bowed. “I want your eyes, Miss Wintermute—your keen, bright eyes. Come and help me!”

~Schlitz 34-35

“That night in Venice,” she said, “you said unless. You told me that the stone would consume me unless. What did that mean?”

He felt too ill to speak. He knew that blood was soaking through the bandages on his head.

“Answer me! The fire will consume me unless. Unless what?”

“Unless the fire opal is stolen.”

Hope dawned on her face. It was swiftly replaced by mistrust. “You tried to steal it, but you couldn’t.”

“I was not a child.”

~Schlitz 132-133

Overall Review:

Technique-wise, Splendors and Glooms is very strong. With a few exceptions, the plot is nicely done and the writing is excellent, and I can see why it got its Newbery Honor. However, the book wasn’t very compelling, and it wasn’t enjoyable, not for me. Clara was the one bright spot in an otherwise middling book.

You can buy this book here: Splendors and Glooms

Coming Up Next: The Wells Bequest by Polly Shulman